In his talk Monday night, Don McPherson decried violence against women. The self-proclaimed feminist and activist spoke out against gender violence, saying “It’s not about waiting for these moments to happen. It’s about preparing for them beforehand.”
The former player for the NFL and CFL and member of the College Football Hall of Fame used his past experiences in the world of sports to bring men into the conversation about women’s violence. He pointed out that in life, like on the field, moments come when we have to make snap decisions based on what we have learned and practiced. He also said instances of violence against women usually occur during or as a result of such moments.
Citing his own family’s history of alcoholism as an example, he said ignoring the issue does not make it go away. Instead, it passes it on to future generations. McPherson said by making violence against women a taboo issue, parents, guardians, teachers and adults in general are sending a message deeming actions that attack females acceptable. He used the classic insult “you throw like a girl” as an example of his point and said by not forcefully denouncing such acts and allowing such language, we as a society create an image of females and femininity as inferior. “We ignore the fact that, in some aspects of life, men need to take on more feminine qualities such as empathy and compassion,” McPherson said.
McPherson also put an emphasis on where children and teens in society learn gender roles and behaviors acceptable for relationships — not from in-depth conversations with their parents, grandparents or guardians but from the media and their peers. He said today’s children learn what they should be and how they should act from the entertainment industry that produces songs, movies and television shows that depict abusive relationships, one-night stands and many other pictures of unhealthy relationships. Then, he added, they share and reaffirm these lessons with their friends and peer groups. He said teens should be learning their roles as males or females from the adults in their lives who can provide a realistic picture of relationships.
According to McPherson, the solution to the issue of gender violence and male notions of superiority lie in changing ideas about what is and what is not acceptable behavior. Men need to hold one another accountable for their actions and stop using words that victimize women. Following the same thought, McPherson said women need to stand up for themselves more often and more strongly. Parents, grandparents and guardians need to take a stronger role in teaching today’s youth about their roles in society, instead of leaving the job to the media and peer groups.
The Women’s Center used McPherson’s talk as the kickoff event to its Women’s Week. Sara Ryan, director of the Women’s Center, said since McPherson was scheduled before the dates for Women’s Week were chosen, the week has been planned around his talk. “Involving more men in the conversation about sexual assault, like with Jackson Katz,” Ryan said, “is the main focus of this year’s Women’s Week and the Violence Intervention Project in general.” Both Katz and McPherson made it clear that the issue known as “women’s violence” is more than just a women’s issue.
A point central to both men’s speeches, as well as the Women’s Center’s various programs for Women’s Week and the Department of Justice’s Violence Intervention Project, was that in order to solve the issue of relationship and domestic violence, men also have to get involved. McPherson said men must stand up and hold other men accountable for how they interact with and treat their female peers.